Celebrating International Women’s Day with a Salute to Women in Agriculture

In recognition of International Women’s Day (March 8), we celebrate all women - especially those in agriculture-related fields, like our Sarah Elliot, client relations manager for Lindsay New Zealand and co-owner of Waikora Station.

Below Sarah shares her agriculture story and explains the journey that took her to her current position. 

I was lucky enough to grow up on a sheep and beef farm in Taranaki (New Zealand), and it was here that my passion for agriculture was cemented. My fondest memories are “working” on the farm - riding shotgun while opening gates, feeding out, chasing sheep in the yards and probably just being a general nuisance. With endless area to explore, countless animals to play with, green grass and glorious mud, your perspective of farming as a child is sublime!

By my latter years of secondary school, when I was considering my next step, I was drawn to the agricultural course options. The school career guidance suggested I should extend myself, so I enrolled into a Bachelor of Technology majoring in product development through Massey University. My summer employment choices kept me true to my ag interests and grew my appetite for solving challenges. It’s surprising how tracking milk losses at 3 a.m. in one of the world’s largest milk powder plants (Whareroa, Fonterra) or bending thousands of wire lengths by hand manufacturing TechnoGrazing™ system hardware pushes you to look for better solutions. I graduated with honours and was awarded the 2004 Product Development prize for my final year project with renowned New Zealand company, Gallagher.

John Wright and I at a field day on his property, Wainono Dairies. John and his wife Sarah were early adopters of the Precision VRI system.

After several years working abroad, I had the opportunity to work with a team of guys who had just commercialized the world’s first true variable rate irrigation (VRI) system. I felt it ticked all the boxes for me. I was going to be using my skills and experience as a mechanical design engineer to develop cutting-edge technologies to benefit the people, industry and environment that I love.

I have now been working in the irrigation industry for more than five years, and my primary role has been introducing farmers to Precision VRI technology and working with them to get the maximum benefit for their farm. I have had the pleasure of working with leading dairy farmers from New Zealand and Australia, poppy growers in Tasmania, onion producers in South Australia, turf growers in Queensland, cropping farmers, sheep and beef farmers from small scale to large. This is what I love – I love riding shot-gun around their farm, listening to how the season is going, discussing the challenges and reasons for installing Precision VRI and then working with them to ensure they get the most out of the system. This can involve looking at the soil variability of an area, mapping wet spots that are reducing yields or produce quality, or environmentally sensitive areas that need avoiding to make sure the Precision VRI system is irrigating where is needed. I also enjoy running training workshops for our customers, helping our dealers at field days and being involved with irrigation efficiency related research projects.

Hamish and I on Waikora Station, in the Haka Valley.

Aside from my role with Lindsay NZ, I co-own Waikora Station with my husband Hamish. Situated in the Hakataramea Valley (NZ), the 2333ha (5,765 acre) hill country property is home to 5,500 superfine merino sheep and a small herd of breeding cattle. Hamish manages the day-to-day running of the property. In other words, he does all the hard work. I look after the finances and administration and help out on the farm when I can. We’ve had a tough two years due to extremely dry conditions but that has grown my appreciation of the challenges that other farmers face. Without challenges, reaching your goals would never be as rewarding (always easily said in hindsight).

I consider myself truly fortunate to be involved in an industry that I am very passionate about but mostly to be farming with my family. I hope our son can look back on his childhood at Waikora Station with the same fondness that I do mine.